U.S. Attorneys Threaten Medical Marijuana States


Graphic: Salem-News/NORML Blog

​It only took two years for the U.S. federal government to get from “we won’t interfere in state medical marijuana laws” to threatening raids and even arrests of state employees if dispensaries are legalized.

The administration is using a new tactic in its war against medical marijuana patients and providers. In at least four states in the past two months, U.S. Attorneys have been given the dirty work of threatening states if progressive medical marijuana legislation is passed.

Things got started in February when the U.S. Attorney for Northern California threatened to prosecute operators of a proposed commercial medical marijuana farm in Oakland, even though the farm was licensed by that city and legal under state law.
U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag “strongly warned” Oakland that big industrial marijuana farms are illegal under federal law, and that the Department of Justice was considering “civil and criminal legal remedies” if the city went ahead with its plans to permit them. The plans were put on hold.

The disturbing trend continued in earnest a couple weeks ago — and was ratcheted up to a new level of rhetoric — when Washington Governor Christine Gregoire sent a letter “seeking guidance” from federal authorities about a bill pending in the state Legislature which would have legalized medicinal cannabis dispensaries in the state.

Photo: Seattle Weekly
U.S. Attorney Michael C. Ormsby likes to run his mouth and throw his weight around.

The response she got from U.S. Attorneys Mike Ormsby (Eastern Washington) and Jenny Durkan (Western Washington) noted U.S. Attorney Haag’s earlier threats in Northern California, and went on to threaten that state employees who license the dispensaries might be arrested. 
Gov. Gregoire quickly used the threats as political cover for a veto of the bill, which would have also provided arrest protection for patients (in Washington, medical marijuana patients only have an “affirmative defense” against prosecution, but enjoy no protection from arrest).
“I asked the Legislature to work with me on a bill that does not subject state workers to the risk of criminal liability,” Gregoire said.
The governor said she would not sign a bill that “puts state employees at risk.”
“I want to protect state employees from arrest,” responded state Senator Jeanne Kohl Welles (D-Seattle), who sponsored the medical marijuana bill. “Who doesn’t? But I have a hard time believing that federal agents would go after state employees who are sitting in their offices. It is very bizarre to think that they would.”
The rhetoric continued last week when U.S. Attorney for Montana Michael Cotter said the prosecution of businesses that sell marijuana is a “core priority” of the U.S. Department of Justice. Cotter was underlining federal intent after last month’s DEA raids of Montana dispensaries.

Photo: Law Week Colorado
U.S. Attorney John Walsh: Adjusting medical marijuana laws “could lead to federal prosecutions”

​And now, the U.S. Attorney for Colorado, John Walsh, has horned in on the legislative process in that state, warning lawmakers that pending legislation adjusting state rules for medical marijuana would conflict with federal law and “could lead to federal prosecutions,” reports Felisa Cardona at The Denver Post.
Walsh’s letter was sent to Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, once again in response to a “request for clarification” (what is it with these state officials who need federal “permission” to do their jobs?) on how federal marijuana policy may conflict with pending House Bill 1043.
“The Department of Justice remains firmly committed to enforcing the federal law and the Controlled Substances Act in all states,” Walsh wrote. “Thus, if provisions of H.B. 1043 are enacted and become law, the Department will continue to carefully consider all appropriate civil and criminal legal remedies to prevent manufacture and distribution of marijuana and other associated violations.”
“The Department would consider civil actions and criminal prosecutions regarding those who set up marijuana growing facilities and dispensaries, as well as property owners, as they will be acting in violation of federal law,” Walsh wrote.
The letter only further muddies the federal Department of Justice’s stance on medical marijuana, rather than providing anything like clarification, according to Sen. Pat Steadman (D-Denver), a sponsor of the bill.
“We have had mixed messages from the federal government on this,” Steadman said. “I think this casts a big shadow upon this industry in Colorado. I does cause some uncertainty and trepidation.”
This is how the administration is continuing the status quo of the federal war on marijuana — using U.S. Attorneys as attack dogs in a cowardly attempt to avoid any political fallout for attacking medical marijuana patients.
Expect the feds to continue tightening their cold steel grip over medical marijuana states — until you get too tired of that nonsense to allow it any longer.